Sunday, October 31, 2010

Halloween and the Jack O'Lantern

Happy Halloween!

I'm spending my holiday in the library catching up on work I couldn't do yesterday when I was at a ballroom dance competition, so I hope your plans are more exciting than mine.

For Halloween today, I decided to write about something I've always been kind of curious about but never took the time to look up-- What the heck are jack o'lanterns for, anyways?

I love carving pumpkins and make sure to do it every year, but I've never really taken a step back to look at the tradition itself.  You have to admit, it's kind of an odd one.  After some Googling, I managed to find a website called the Pumpkin Nook, which brands itself as the "Internet Shrine and Library for Pumpkins".  Clearly, such a website was bound to explain jack o'lanterns to me.

According to the site, jack o'lanterns come from an Irish legend about a "miserable old drunk" known as Stingy Jack, who played a trick on the Devil by coaxing him into climbing a tree, then surrounding the trunk with crosses so the Devil couldn't get down.  Jack only let him down once the Devil promised not to take his soul when he died.  Unfortunately for Jack, this didn't work out quite as well as he wanted it to.  When he died, St. Peter refused to let him into heaven (perhaps because of the "miserable old drunk" part?) but the Devil kept his promise and refused to let him into hell.  This left Jack to wander the darkness between the two forever, lighting his way with an ember from hell that he carried in a hollowed out turnip (apparently something Jack kept with him regularly).

This legend turned into a tradition in Ireland, with people placing lights in hollowed out turnips and other vegetables outside their doors on Halloween to keep evil spirits away.  Once the Irish started moving to the United States, they discovered pumpkins (native to North America) and started using them for lanterns instead, as they're a lot easier to carve and hollow out than a turnip.

So now you know exactly what you're doing when you carve your next jack o'lantern!  I have to say, modern ones are definitely a lot cooler than a hollowed out turnip is likely to be.  Check out this link for a small glimpse of how awesome jack o'lanterns can be!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Things that Go Bump in the Night

Man, I really need to get better at remembering what day it is.  Just this week, I forgot to call my dad on his birthday-- not because I forgot his birthday but rather because I didn't realize it was already October 25th!  How did it get so far into fall already?

Maybe the weather here is throwing me off.  Everyone told me to have fun in the Frozen North when I left Virginia for Michigan, even my Connecticut friends who should be used to cold!  But so far it hasn't been too bad.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Multitasking and Your Brain

I am always busy.  It's just how I choose to live most of the time.  Barring this past summer, when I avoided having a job to recover from academic burnout, I have at least five things going on all the time-- work, school, activities, volunteering, personal projects, socializing, you name it.  Even when I'm relaxing, I know there's a long list of things that I should be doing.  This means I have become very, very good at multi-tasking.

Recently, however, I've been trying to do that less.  Not because I have fewer things to do, but because I read a fantastic book that, among other things, explained exactly how your brain processes things when you multitask and why it might not be good when you're trying to learn or remember something.  The book, The Tyranny of E-mail by John Freeman, goes through all the ways in which e-mail has changed our lives, from forming our to-do lists for us, swamping us with physically impossible amounts of information to digest, and forcing us to bring our work home with us.  (At one point he cites an interview with Madonna where the pop star admitted that both she and then-husband Guy Ritchie slept with their Blackberries under their pillows.)

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Washington's Farewell Address

As I was going through my information stockpiles recently, looking for something to post, I found a bunch of note cards I completely forgot I had.

In high school, I took AP US History my junior or senior year. My best friend had taken it the year before, and our brothers had taken it the year before that. This meant that, when I started the class, I inherited a huge stack of typewritten index cards covering almost everything one needs to know to pass both the class and the AP Exam. To be honest, I’m not even sure how old they are—I think the boys might have inherited them too. It seems like multiple people have made them, because some are terribly unhelpful while others provide really great summaries.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Mr. Jefferson

It is currently my fall break, and I decided to make a trip from Michigan down to the University of Virginia, where I did my undergrad.  Never would I have ever predicted the thought "Oh thank god, West Virginia" would cross my mind, but man, after driving through Ohio, it's a welcome relief!  It's actually a really pretty state to drive through, and I do miss being around mountains.  Also, I was out of Ohio.  Not sure I can emphasize that point enough.

But given how long my last post was and in honor of being back in the lovely Charlottesville, VA, I figured today I would keep things short and talk about one of my favorite facts regarding the University and its founder, Thomas Jefferson.

I love Thomas Jefferson.  I don't think you can go to UVA without loving Thomas Jefferson.  We're kind of obsessed.  The man was a genius.  He was good at everything, from farming to creating a country.  How many people can say that?

One thing he did toward the end of his life was design his own gravestone and epitaph, choosing to highlight just three of his many accomplishments.  The stone, which is still in excellent condition in his family cemetery at Monticello, reads:

"Here was buried Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of American Independence, of the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom, and father of the University of Virginia."

Of everything he had done in his life, including being President and Vice-President of the United States, Governor of Virginia, and initiator of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, he felt these three things were most important.  To me, this says a lot about where he placed his priorities.

Just a little something I've always found interesting, especially considering he insisted before his death that these three things and "not a word more" be inscribed on his tombstone.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Culture Jamming

I have a stats assignment and an essay on  Marxist media theory due tomorrow, so I don't have time to write a new post.  However, I'm really proud of how I've been updating this regularly (Wednesdays and Sundays for those of you who aren't paying attention), and I don't want to mess that trend up.  Therefore, today I'm just going to post a project I did first year for MDST 201, Intro to Media Studies.  

For this project, we had to perform a culture jam on a piece of print advertisement and then include a writeup explaining what we did.  To quote the assignment, "Culture Jamming is the practice of taking preexisting texts and altering their content so that they critique themselves.  The practice goes beyond parody in that its goals are not simply comic but political.  The successful culture jam subverts and destabilizes the text by pointing out its complicity in problematic practices."

I will say right now that this is not one of my best papers (it was quite a few years ago), but the assignment was an interesting one, and it's short enough that I don't feel it'll be overwhelming to post here.  I'd love to know what you think!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Trivial Pursuit

So this post is directed at people my age and younger-- when playing Trivial Pursuit, pay careful attention to what edition you are using. And I don't mean if you're playing with the "Trivial Pursuit Totally 80's" version or the "Trivial Pursuit Star Wars Classic Trilogy Collector's" edition, although these editions are probably pretty cool. No, I am referring to regular old "general knowledge" Trivial Pursuit. If you were born in the late 80s or beyond, try to get the newer editions. If you can't manage that and end up playing with the original (released in 1982), here are at least two answers I can help you with.

If the question is, "What one country borders the most other countries?", do not go with Russia, even if you think this is true. Acceptable answers are: the Soviet Union, the USSR and The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

If you get another geography question after that, Dresden is in East Germany.

For everything else, like early 80's TV stars, you're on your own, but if these two questions come up, be sure to give me some credit when you win.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Intro to Media Studies

Looking back on the posts I’ve put up, I realized that very few of them are about media studies, which struck me as odd considering that’s what I actually do.  I suppose this may be attributed to the fact that media studies fall into the category of “Things I’m Not Supposed to Forget” and therefore not directly in line with the past tense focus of my blog’s title.  At the same time, I could probably use a refresher on some of the things that came up in the second Media Studies class I ever took—MDST 201- Introduction to Media Studies—and hopefully it’ll give the rest of you a bit more context on what it is I study.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

How to Remove Onion/Garlic Smell from Hands

So among other interesting features, like not having a single level surface anywhere, my apartment has no microwave.  Being both poor and cheap, I decided to see if I can get by without buying one, and thus far, it's actually been pretty easy.  One unexpected benefit is that I've been making the time to cook a lot more often, knowing that I won't be able to toss a Hot Pocket in the microwave when I get hungry.  Plus I actually really enjoy cooking.

What I don't enjoy is how, after chopping onions, garlic or other strongly scented ingredients, the smell can stay on your hands for a ridiculously long time.  It reminds me of when I worked at Quiznos and smelled sandwiches all the time.  Thankfully, there are ways to solve this problem, and I'm going to share the best two with you today.